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My Child Is Developing Behavior Problems at School: Help!

Learn what to do If your child is developing behavior problems at school. Discover strategies to change the behavior, on HealthyPlace.

If your child is developing behavior problems at school, you can help them change their behavior. School misbehavior is complex and doesn’t happen because a child is “bad.” To help your child who’s developing behavior problems at school, it’s important to know what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to deal with it.

Types of Behavior Problems in School

School behavior problems can take many forms. Some of the most common types of behavior problems in the classroom involve acting out, including:

  • Becoming the class clown
  • Picking on other kids, even blatant bullying
  • Talking back
  • Refusing to follow rules
  • Refusing to listen, sit still, or complete work
  • Verbal or physical misdeeds
  • Explosive outbursts

No matter the type of behavior problems at school, it’s important for parents to address them. The reason is not to punish kids and “teach them a lesson.” The purpose is to teach them to learn how to handle situations in a constructive way, now and as they continue to grow and develop.

How to Help a Child with Behavior Problems at School: Understand the Reasons

Kids often communicate through behavior—and misbehavior. To help them, we need to listen and seek to understand why a child is having behavior problems at school. These problems commonly underly school misbehavior:

  • Frustration over falling behind
  • Boredom if the pace is too slow
  • Difficulty getting along with others, feeling left out

Kids also misbehave if one or more of their basic needs are unmet. William Glasser (1998), the founder of a behavior and counseling approach called Choice Theory, describes five basic needs of people of all ages that drive behavior and misbehavior:

  • Survival (adequate food, shelter, clothing)
  • Love and belonging (feeling valued, accepted)
  • Power (having a degree of control over their circumstances)
  • Freedom (opportunities to make choices big and small)
  • Fun (enjoyment, laughter)

Because children are still learning and developing, they often can’t articulate these problems. They alert parents and teachers to their problems by misbehaving. They need the adults in their lives to step in and help.   

How to Help a Child who is Developing Behavior Problems at School

Behavior is a form of communication, so use it to your advantage to learn how to help. Listen closely to both the child and their behavior to learn what’s happening.

A helpful place to start is your child’s school. Talk to their teacher. Depending on your child’s behavior and where it occurs, you might also include the principal and other relevant personnel. Together, you can create a consistent behavior plan for your child at school and at home. Consistency is crucial to change problem behavior.

There are strategies you can use to achieve the goal of not just ending problem behaviors in the classroom but replacing them with positive, effective behaviors:

  • Investigate. What’s going on? When? Who is involved? Consider the five basic needs and what might be lacking. Look for patterns to complete the bigger picture of what is happening with your child.
  • Talk to your child. Be open and non-judgmental, talking kindly and calmly. Avoid lecturing or scolding. When your child feels safe talking to you, you’ll be better able to understand them.
  • Provide structure and routines. Structure and routines give kids a framework to know what to expect from home and school as well as what home and school expect from them.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Trying to punish away bad behavior is ineffective because it doesn’t let kids know what they should be doing instead. Rules and expectations must be clear and consistent. When you’re sure that kids understand your behavior expectations, catch them being good and acknowledge it. Use reward charts or a token economy so they can earn stickers or tokens for good behavior that they can use to “buy” small rewards.

These strategies will let you help your child who’s developing behavior problems at school. What if your child has an emotional or behavior disorder?

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in the Classroom

Some children have a diagnosed emotional disorder (psychiatric disorders like psychotic disorders, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders) or behavioral disorder (like oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder). Behavior problems associated with these disorders involve difficulties with peer relationships, inappropriate emotions and behaviors, and other disruptive actions.

Sometimes, a child may not have a behavior problem, but frustrations from undiagnosed learning disabilities or ADHD can lead to disruptive outbursts, anger, and aggression.

Helping a child with emotional and behavior disorders in the classroom is similar to helping other children. However, children with behavior or emotional disorders in the classroom need rules and consequences to be more black-and-white. Keeping your approach simple will reduce frustration and minimize misbehavior. Also, counselors or social workers can be useful in helping change problem behaviors at school.

In the end, learning how to help your child with behavior problems at school is not about correcting a specific misbehavior. It’s about a much bigger picture—helping your children prepare themselves for work, relationships, and life in general.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, August 7). My Child Is Developing Behavior Problems at School: Help!, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/behavior-disorders/my-child-is-developing-behavior-problems-at-school-help

Last Updated: August 13, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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